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15-Love serves teens

January 10, 2011

by Rachel Theall

Blink and you might miss it, the plain white building that sits on the corner of North Main Avenue, at 785 Washington Ave. What once was a floral shop now grows another resource, the hopes and dreams of the local youth. The program, 15-love, a nonprofit youth organization bought the building and set up shop a little over a year ago, a move that has helped the program and those it serves.

Amber Marino, 35, executive director of 15-love, shows off the building the same way a mother would a new born child.

“We hope this place will be a home away from home for our kids,” Marino said. She hopes the building will host a number of new and old programs for the Pine Hills neighborhood to participate in, including a healthy cooking night, college prep classes, and a book club for young readers, and she is planning a leadership class for students of Albany High. The program will focus on kids who are in danger of falling into gang activity because they don’t have the social skills to say no.

Albany High school is only two blocks away and on a the number 12 bus line, one of the reasons 15-love bought the building. “There where places in Guilderland that we were looking at, but we wanted to stay close so the kids would be able to get to us easily, here we are on a bus line and are a short walk from the high school,” Marino said.

The most recently renovated area – the basement – attracts the most attention because it  is equipped with donated items including a ping pong table, a Wii and a television. Marino said “we wanted a place for the high school kids to come and feel safe, and know they can just be” the basement offers a refuge from the often hostel atmosphere of high school life.

The 15-Love program got its start when National Tennis Hall of famer, Arthur Ashe, at the time one of the most successful African American Tennis player in America, created The National Junior Tennis League. Members of the Capital Region Youth Tennis Foundation reached out to Ashe for support for  a program for kids in the Capital Region. Ashe wanted to use all of the unused tennis courts in Albany, including those in Hoffman, Lincoln, and Washington parks. He proposed that tennis could be used to “teach the game of life.” Unlike other children’s programs operated by the National Junior Tennis League, 15-Love doesn’t focus entirely on tennis, they are concerned with the whole child’s well being, especially education.

One person who benefited from 15-Love’s focus on education is the current program director Domingo Montes 31, one of the program’s many success stories. Montes came up through the program when he was a young child in the inner city of Albany. The 15-Love and its staff gave him the confidence and focus to stay out of trouble, graduate from high school, and get his degree in teaching. Montes credits his success to 15-Love. “My life would be in a different direction, I would be either dead or in jail,” he said.When Montes heard that 15-Love needed a new program director he jumped at the chance to help.

“I moved from Pennsylvania to come back to keep the program going,” he said. His commitment to the program is a testament to its success in the Albany area.

For the past 20 years 15-Love has served the city of Albany and now with a new base of operations in the Pine Hills community, Montes, Marino and the rest of the staff are thrilled with the possibilities of what is to come. “We are just so happy to have our own building, a place of our own where the kids have a feeling of belonging.” -30-

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